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REACTIONS TO THE STRANGER
The Stranger was wholly the product of Camus' experiences, and the Parisian reader could not have shared them. All he could do was to recognize that a new dimension was being added to his literature, ushered in by a frightening gong: "four short blows that I struck at the gate of misfortune." In the first major review of The Stranger, Sartre would recognize its existential quality, a historian would see it as the symbol of the Algerian Frenchman isolated in his Moslem milieu. Much later, a hostile Algerian would decide that in killing the Arab, Camus (or his hero) subconsciously acted out the dream of the pied noir who loved Algeria but without Moslem Algerians. A Finnish economic geographer would tell the author of this book that he saw in the beach scene, when sunstruck Meursault pulled the trigger, a textbook example of the effect of climate on population.
Herbert R. Lottman, Albert Camus, 1979
CAMUS ON THE ABSURD
Camus claims that the feeling of the absurd is something of which we find evidence not only in literature but in daily conversation and ordinary contacts with other people. The absurd may be experienced quite spontaneously without preparation of the mind or senses. Its revelation of itself to certain individuals is as arbitrary as the operation of divine grace for a believer in predestination. Generally, however, a sense of the absurd is most likely to arise in one or more of four different ways. Firstly, the mechanical nature of many individuals' lives, the deadening routine that marks them, may one day cause some of these individuals to question the value and purpose of their existence. Awareness of the absurd finds its second possible source in an acute sense of time passing- a sense of time as the destructive element. Thirdly, the absurd arises from that sense of dereliction in an alien world which people feel in varying degrees. Lastly, we may possibly experience the absurd through an acute sense of our fundamental isolation from other human beings.
John Cruickshank, Albert Camus and the Literature of Revolt, 1960
MEURSAULT AND THE NATURAL WORLD
Meursault's awareness of the colors, lights and sensations of the external world is so acute as to recall at times a mystical experience. Objects exist for him in their absolute newness as they exist for the illuminate. He delights in existence such as he finds it, and each detail is for him infinitely important. This importance of physical existence is, in The Stranger, part of the expression of the absurdity of the world. When no emotions or ideas have any significance, physical events alone are capable of influencing a man and making him act. It is not hatred, envy, greed, revenge, or honor which makes Meursault kill the Arab, but simply the effect of the sun. This is the only explanation which he can give of his act, and since he is not very good at expressing himself, it is one which society cannot understand or accept.
Philip Thody, Albert Camus, 1959
CAMUS ON RELIGION
We come to understand the thought of Albert Camus only after we have probed the full significance of his optimism about and his pessimism about human destiny. For this throws us back to the abiding evidence of evil in human existence. For the Christian the ultimate character of the universe is good, and in this he finds his hope and the ability to transcend and accept, to a degree, the evil in the world. But what, at this point, has become clear about the thought of Camus is that for him the ultimate character of the universe is evil and that consequently men are always uncertain and always threatened; whatever goodness there be in life, it is in men, and this goodness is created only in the struggle of men to preserve and enlarge this area of goodness which they alone know and which they alone can guarantee.
Thomas L. Hanna, "Albert Camus and the Christian Faith," in The Journal of Religion, 1956
CAMUS AND THE SUN
The sun, experienced with such pagan receptivity in the early essays, again dominates these passages of The Stranger and unifies them insofar as it symbolizes violence and destruction. The key to this symbolical use of the sun lies in the metaphysical intention that animates Camus' work. The entire novel is an allegory of that absurd universe which Camus had described elsewhere- The Myth of Sisyphus- in philosophical terms. Meursault is the symbol of man perpetually estranged in the world and this conception is reinforced when Camus, lending the sun this potent destructive influence, absolves man from responsibility- and hence from guilt- by reducing him to something less than man, to the status of an irresponsible element in nature.
S. Beynon John, "Image and Symbol in the Work of Albert Camus," in French Studies, 1955
The final pages [of The Stranger] remain unclear even after several readings. Camus' intention is clear enough: he is asserting that life has value and meaning even when it appears most valueless and meaningless; he is trying to find a way to repudiate the implications of his own vision of the human predicament. Yet all he can do is to counter this vision with an abstract argument, and since he is a man of honesty and intellectual integrity, he will not permit himself a glib argument. The result is an obscure one... that carries far less conviction than the strong nihilistic bias of the book as a whole. What remains after you have put The Stranger down... is a cry of despair and the memory of a writer doing his best to say no to the pronouncements of his own voice.
Norman Podhoretz, "Solitary or Solidary?" in On Contemporary Literature, 1969
MEURSAULT AND SOCIETY
Society as Camus portrays it is as duplicitous, capricious, and lethal as fate, with one vital difference: fate makes no claim to rationality, while society does make one. Once Meursault has been labeled a "criminal," all of his previous actions that have seemed merely eccentric are brought against him as evidence of a heinous personality by the witnesses who gave no indication of judging him so harshly before his crime. There is implicit in The Stranger the theme that no matter how innocent a life one may have led, once he has been judged guilty of a crime, society sanctimoniously hastens to reinterpret all his past actions in a guilty light. It would be a mistake, however, to interpret the novel, as the jacket note of an American translation does, merely as the story of "an ordinary little man... helpless in life's grip." Although Meursault does describe himself as being "just like everybody else," this represents a certain irony on Camus' part... for it is clear that Camus meant Meursault to be something more than a normal citizen whose minor eccentricities are turned against him because a freakish stroke of fate has caused him to commit a crime. Meursault is a social rebel.
Donald Lazere, the Unique Creation of Albert Camus, 1973
MEURSAULT AND THE READER
The second part of the novel is concerned with the enigmatic problem of Meursault's act, a problem as puzzling to Meursault as to the reader. Of the usual interpretations, Camus makes short shrift, presenting them ironically in Meursault's semi-burlesque interviews with the prosecutor, magistrate, and lawyer, and in his account of the trial. The first person narrative now establishes a strange dissociation between the facts and feelings Meursault had previously described, and the attempts made by others to interpret them coherently. A definite shift in perspective is introduced: the reader finds himself in the position of judge, jury, and privileged witness. He and Meursault alone know the facts. Camus has thereby put upon him the burden of an explanation Meursault is unable to furnish. Self-critical and self-correcting, the novel rapidly moves towards its end.
Germaine Bree, Albert Camus, 1959
CAMUS AND HEMINGWAY
The so-called "Americanness" of The Stranger is a false trail. Camus stated afterwards that he had used Hemingway's techniques in order to portray a character who is "ostensibly without awareness." But Camus was always willing to admit that he had submitted to influences and he often exaggerated their importance; it was part of his desire to be honest and nice. Only a few passages of The Stranger are written in the manner of The Sun Also Rises. As Meursault stands on his balcony he surveys the street; he limits himself to visual observation and does not reconstruct what he sees. Even this owes less to Hemingway than to Camus' evolution. He had always noted the details of Algerian popular life. Previously he had lapsed into sentimentality but he had schooled himself to write more objectively.
Patrick McCarthy, Camus, 1982
Each sentence is a present instant, but not an indecisive one that spreads like a stain to the following one. The sentence is sharp, distinct, and self-contained. It is separated by a void from the following one.... The world is destroyed and reborn from sentence to sentence. The sentences in The Stranger are islands. We bounce from sentence to sentence, from void to void. It was in order to emphasize the isolation of each sentence unit that Camus chose to tell his story in the present perfect tense.
Jean-Paul Sartre, "An Explication of The Stranger," 1947
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts